Some kids spend their time playing the latest video games or signing up for sports, but 11-year-old Levi Don is using his time to raise money for the New York-based company Innovation: Africa.
“I’m working with Innovation: Africa to bring Israeli solar technology to African villages in need,” said Levi in a video on gofundme.com. “The benefit of having solar technology is being able to pump clean water throughout the villages instead of having to travel miles to find dirty water.”
Levi, who is a congregant of the New Shul, began his crowdfunding campaign in February with the help of his parents, Rachael and David Don, as an early bar mitzvah project. Seventy donors helped the Scottsdale family reach their local goal of $3,600, all of which will be directed to Innovation: Africa.
Levi wasn’t expecting that they would raise the money so quickly, but when he saw that they had reached their goal, he was very happy.
Africa has been the young fundraiser’s dream vacation since he was younger. He is obsessed with all things Africa, and has some family history on the continent: His father was born in South Africa. In third grade, he worked on a yearlong project focusing on Botswana.
This campaign is not the first time Levi has worked to raise funds for an African nation.
“A couple years back, I tried making a website to raise money for Zimbabwe, but I never ended up finishing it,” he said. “When I found Innovation: Africa, I knew it would be perfect for me to help.”
Levi is one of just five kids raising money for the nonprofit as part of a 2020 bar mitzvah project. The overall goal is to reach $18,000 between the five of them. Jack Ufberg is raising funds in Philadelphia, Evyatar Solomon from Los Angeles and Yontan Berman and Shaiya Gersch who are cousins living in Israel are also raising funds.
Levi’s mother, Rachael, was able to connect him with the other three kids who are dedicating their mitzvah projects to the organization. She said she felt as if the stars aligned when they started working on the project, but marketing the fundraiser has been a challenge.
“We look at fundraising in a whole new light now,” Rachael said. “It’s not easy to ask people for money, it can be uncomfortable. I think with social media, we’re inundated to gloss over any donation requests. Trying to convey the message that this is really going to make a difference and that this is real is very challenging.”
Innovation: Africa was founded in 2008 by Israeli-born Sivan Ya’ari, who found that many African villages were experiencing poverty because of the lack of energy access.
“Because Israel is such a strong country and because of what has been invented recently, I feel that it is our responsibility to help,” Ya’ari said. The organization regularly partners with kids doing bar and bat mitzvahs.
The organization’s mission is to share the knowledge and expertise developed in Israel with off-grid African villages. The similar climate to Israel and natural resources make them a perfect fit for Israeli solar, water and agricultural technologies.
One of Innovation: Africa’s most common projects is using solar-powered water pumps and applying Israeli agricultural practices such as drip irrigation in areas experiencing drought. These solar-powered water pumping systems tap into underground water and pump up to 10,000 gallons per day into large tanks, from which the water is distributed throughout a village via a drip irrigation process.
The organization has also provided lighting for schools, orphanages and medical clinics and refrigerators for vaccines. Solar refrigerators have helped more than 350,000 children get vaccines for diseases like tetanus, tuberculosis, diphtheria and measles.
The nonprofit has completed 220 separate projects in 10 different African countries and has assisted more than 1.3 million Africans throughout the continent.
As of press time, the boys are just $100 away from their goal. Should they reach it, Levi will be invited to an African country to see how the solar panels are making a difference. The family also plans to visit Botswana when they go to Africa. Levi is beyond excited to visit the continent he’s so passionate about for the first time.
“They’re not going to tell us where we’re going until we raise the total sum,” he said. “They’re putting the suspense on us, but it just means that we have to work harder to get to that goal. And we’re so close.” JN